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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   20i
The nurse from the office, a scraggy, middle-aged
woman, came into the ward and inquired:
'Meresyev, Alexei, is he a walking patient?"
L'Xo, a running one!" barked Struchkov.
"I did not come here for a joke,"' observed the nurse
sternly. "Meresyev, Alexei, senior lieutenant, wanted on
the telephone."
"A young lady?" asked Struchkov, livening up and
winking at the irate nurse.
"I did not see her marriage certificate/" hissed the
nurse, sailing majestically out of the ward.
Meresyev leapt up from his bed. Cheerfully tapping
his walking-stick, he overtook the nurse and actually did
run down the stairs. For about a month he had been
expecting a reply from Olya and the thought had flashed
through his mind: perhaps it is she? But that could not
be. She could not travel from that place near Stalingrad
to Moscow at a time like this! Besides, how could she
have found him here in the hospital, since he had told
her that he was serving in some rear administration, and
not in Moscow itself, but in a suburb? But at that mo-
ment Meresyev believed in miracles, and not noticing it
himself, he ran, ran for the first time on his artificial
feet, in a rolling gait, leaning on his stick only now and
again, while his boots creaked: creak, creak, creak....
He picked up the receiver and he heard a pleasant,
deep, but totally strange voice. He was asked whether he
was Senior Lieutenant Alexei Petrovich Meresyev from
ward forty-two. In a sharp and angry tone, as if there
had been something offensive in that question, Meresyev
There was a moment's pause, and then the voice, now
cold and strained, apologised for having troubled him
and, evidently offended by the curt reply, went on to say
with obvious effort:
"This is Anna Gribova speaking, a friend of Lieuten-
ant Gvozdev's. You don't know me."
Meresyev grasped the receiver with both his hands
and shouted into it, at the top of his voice:
"Are you Anyuta? Anyuta? I know you perfectly
well! Grisha told me about..,."